Love from Alaska

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My honest truth? When it comes to so-called “racial reconciliation” or just plain living out the faith in its intra-ethnic dimensions, these days I’m quite exhausted and usually thinking about ways to check out. That’s been the case for the last two years. It’s not hard to imagine why.

And just when I’m thinking of folding up the tent and moving on to some other more isolated, less diverse spot to camp, the Lord sends encouragement. Not encouragement to go, but encouragement to endure. A gentle reminder that He is there, doing His work all along, achieving reconciliation in far flung places. And that’s the thing: I (we?) tend to think it’s not happening if it’s not happening with me (us?) right where we are. I’m seldom actively thinking it’s happening somewhere else, where I’m not, with people I can’t see. Then the encouragement comes.

Today I received the following letter from Peter in, of all places, Alaska. I don’t receive letters like this often–just often enough to keep praying and pushing. They don’t arrive weekly or even monthly. But they do come in time, on time. And I’m reminded that God works things out where we’re not looking, behind our backs, for His glory.

So, with his permission in the P.S., I’m posting this (a) because Peter specifically mentions a number of people we should appreciate, (b) because perhaps you need encouragement too, and (c) perhaps his example might help others own their own stories, diversify their friendships, and confess to the glory of God. While I’m hopeful, this is what I pray. Tomorrow I might be less hopeful and I’ll have this here to read again.

———————-

Thabiti,

Allow me to introduce myself and hopefully give you a little bit of context for the rest of this note:

My name is Pete Doner. I’ll be thirty years old this summer, and my wife and I will celebrate six years of marriage. We are expecting our third child any day now, which is part of why I’m at home writing instead of at work. I’m a self-employed carpenter, with the most of my time spent framing houses. My family lives in Wasilla, Alaska. We are members of Wasilla Bible Church–a congregation that was briefly made famous by Sarah Palin’s occasional attendance. 

If every fact I’ve given you and my manner itself hasn’t already made this obvious: my wife and I are white. We also both belong very much to Jesus, and we love his Church. 

I first heard your talk “The Decline of African American Theology” via a TGC podcast in the spring of 2012. I was impressed with your courage, and I was fascinated by the history of African-American theology–something I knew nothing about. But more than anything I felt a flood of relief as I heard you speak. Deep down inside me was the inarticulated fear that the reformation truths that grip me and have shaped my life were only part of my white cultural heritage. Its embarrassing to confess that I used to feel that way- I know its an ignorant view. But hearing you, with your obviously black name, express love for biblical theology in your obviously black voice, encouraged me deeply. In pointing to a rich heritage of black theologians who submitted joyfully to the authority of scripture you silenced a lot of my fears.

That was the first in a chain of events that led me to think about black/white/Jesus issues more than before. Next, John Piper posted something online about Lecrae, who I had barely heard of. I might be the only person on the planet who became a hip-hop listener because of John Piper. But over the last few years Lecrae, Propaganda, Shai Linne, Jackie Hill Perry and others have become some of my very favorite artists, and voices that God has used to convict and encourage me.

I hope I can describe some of the irony here. I don’t know if its possible to look racist, but I might. I’m tall and skinny, with short blond hair and blue eyes, and my clothes reflect my occupation (I wear a beard, flannel, plaid and boots in a non-hiptser way). Whenever I encounter someone who is brown or black I feel obligated to smile extra and hope they take a second look at my tattoos and see that they are inspired by Jesus and my wife, not Adolf Hitler. I am an avid hunter and skier. The Johnny Cash in my iTunes library isn’t going to surprise anyone, but the growing library of hip-hop made by Christians would probably surprise an observer trying to figure me out. 

Having all these black voices in my thought life has been disruptive to my accustomed habits of speech and thought. After saying something racially charged around my white friends (and I only have white friends because I live in Wasilla, Alaska) I have found myself wondering how that would make Thabiti or Propaganda feel if either of you had been in the room. A couple of times I’ve heard white guys say offensive stuff about black people, and I felt compelled to speak up (really clumsily as it turns out) on behalf of these black believers I’ve come to love and respect.

Along with this shift in my thinking the Holy Spirit has convicted me that I’m guilty of racial partiality, and while its a dirty and complicated word, I’ll just call it racism. It’s not a racism that makes me Donald-Trump-offensive, but for a long time it allowed me to be more angry about black/white conflict than I was grieved. I was angrier about Michael Brown apparently roughing up a convenience store clerk more than I was grieved for his family and community. I was angrier about riots in Baltimore more that I was grieved about the poverty and pitiable condition  of the rioters. I don’t think it is wrong to be angry about violent or rude behavior from people of any color, but I’ve felt convicted that my anger should be dwarfed by real Christian grief and desire for reconciliation. Along with that, I’m looking for ways that I can take part in reconciliation with my words and my work.

Thabiti, God is using you and other black Christians to prod me out of sin and pull me into better obedience. Thank you for that! I’ve been writing this rambling note in the back of my mind for a few months now, since I saw some crazy white dude accuse you on social media of being some sort of secret abortion supporter. I think I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me that maybe I should try and reach out, that maybe a word of thanks, confession and support from a culturally distant brother in Christ like myself might be of value.

God bless!

Pete Doner

PS: I’m sending this to you privately, but its also an open letter. Here’s what I mean: If I’m rambling, or this is the sixth letter like this this month that you have received, or if I’ve accidentally  been offensive I am content with privacy. But I don’t want you to feel for a second like my appreciation for you or my repentance from sin is something I’m embarrassed to say publicly. This letter is yours to share anyway you want. If you think I should, I’ll post it on my blog where all eleven of my readers can see it. (Mostly, my blog is read by my extended family, I’m not exactly Tim Challies.)

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